U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield introduced a bill Thursday night that they say would help people who are trying to sue over groundwater contamination at Camp Lejeune.
The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month upheld North Carolina’s 10-year limit on how long people have to bring certain pollution-related lawsuits. The immediate decision affected CTS Corp., which formerly owned land near Ashville where residents now find their well water contaminated. The Camp Lejeune case, however, will be affected by the ruling.
Hagan, a Democrat from Greensboro, said the legislation she filed in the Senate and that Butterfield, a Democrat from Wilson, filed in the House would clarify the intent of existing federal Superfund law. A press release on Friday from the two lawmakers said that their legislation would preempt state laws that limit the time in which damages could be recovered for injuries and diseases.
The state limit the Supreme Court upheld is called a statute of repose. It starts a 10-year clock running from the time of the last culpable act of the defendant, such as when a company stops polluting or sells a property. It is a stricter standard than one in the federal law – a two-year limit that starts only after people discover they’ve been harmed. The Supreme Court decided that North Carolina’s statute of repose was different from the statute of limitations in the 1980 federal Superfund law, and so it was not preempted by the federal limit.
State lawmakers also have attempted to help by altering the state law to make it clear that the statute of repose wasn’t intended to apply to the tainted groundwater cases. Their legislation was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory.